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Making it Mine: Sir Arthur Russell and his Mineral Collection

7 February 2023

This large, ambitious book has two subjects: the talented and obsessive collector, Sir Arthur Russell, and his legacy, the Sir Arthur Russell Collection of British Minerals, located in the Natural History Museum, London. The Russell Collection is ‘widely regarded as the most magnificent and comprehensive private collection of British Isles minerals ever made’. The approximately 14,000 specimens consist, in roughly equal parts, of personally collected specimens and historic collections. It is especially valuable as a reference collection because of Russell’s careful documentation.

This book is an unconventional biography. Russell’s life (1878-1964) was entwined with collecting specimens and the value of his collection is so reliant on his approach and scholarship that the author has adopted a compartmented structure for clarity. The chief strengths of the book are the narrative of how the collection was built and the stunning, well-captioned photographs of select minerals from the collection.

There is a strategy behind valuable collections. Russell concentrated on minerals of the British Isles; he collected suites of minerals in mining areas and spent considerable effort in the analysis and description of his specimens, much of which was published. He personally found roughly half of his collection. Through a wide network of owners, managers, and foremen, he learned of opportunities to access mines and quarries. Mineral dealers were also a useful source of specimens. The other major component is the numerous old collections Russell acquired. The background and significance of the original collectors and collections are clearly presented and well illustrated. Russell’s correspondence and careful records reveal his courtesy and dogged persistence. Most pursuits were successful, although a few were protracted over decades. What is surprising is the relatively low prices he paid for specimens, even allowing for inflation.

Photographs from the collection are found throughout, but two chapters, forming a third of the volume, are predominantly photographic, organised as a specimen gallery and by featured localities. The gallery selection combines scientific and historical interest, visual impact, and unusual associations in the anionic chemical classification sequence used by Russell. Sixteen mines and suites of minerals are then featured with site photos, maps, and plans.

Extensive footnotes, informative captions, exhaustive reference lists, and a thorough index, together with the book’s clear structure, makes it an excellent reference book of high production quality. Making it Mine is for the keen mineral collector, mineralogist, or historian interested in the cultural aspects of mineral collecting and trading.

Reviewed by John Henry



BY: Roy E. Starkey (2022). British Mineralogy Publications, 432 pp. (hbk).

ISBN: 978-0-9930182-4-4

PRICE: £50.00 britishmineralogy.com